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Orion's sword

This month, we honor the Man of the Hour, indeed of the entire season: Orion the Hunter. No other constellation is as rich as Orion. He has it all — a brilliant presence at all levels, from naked eye through the largest telescopes.

While it may not be an acceptable thing to do in certain circles, we are going to strike Orion below the belt. That’s where we find his sword. While it may look like only three faint stars to our eyes, Orion’s Sword reveals a lot of bling through binoculars.

The middle “star” of the sword is actually the Orion Nebula (M42), a huge cloud of glowing hydrogen gas known as a Hydrogen II region. These H II regions are interstellar maternity wards, where dense pockets of gas and dust are giving birth to new stars. The Orion Nebula has already spawned more than a thousand stars, and more are still to come. Many of these stars are incredibly hot, emitting lethal levels of ultraviolet radiation. As the radiation bombards the hydrogen atoms floating among the stars, electrons are alternately torn off and rejoined to the atoms’ nuclei. In the process, the atoms become ionized and begin to glow. That’s why the Orion Nebula is also referred to as an emission nebula.

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